Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Shout Out to the Dish

Thanks to the Dish for my AWESOME header! She designed it herself!! You are awesome, Dish. I will accept this instead of a birthday gift.

Indecision: The Source of All Headaches

If there is one thing I am not, it is a “sure” person. Making decisions with a feeling of certainty is as foreign to me as what life is like on other planets.

In college, this is acceptable.

Professors derive a great sense of pleasure out of pulling the rug out from under the sheltered and the unquestioning masses of undergrads. “Question everything,” they encourage. “Are those views yours or your parents?” Or worse yet…society’s?

In this sense, I have never graduated from college.

There is a thin line between believing in open-mindedness to all things and all possibilities, and the belief that if you don’t stand up for something, you might just fall for anything.

The choices I have made in life with an air of certainty are few and far between- if they exist at all. Every crossroads is another opportunity to slip life under the old magnifying glass; waver, waffle and either do something or nothing, and continue on in the comfortable holding pattern that already exists.

I keep expecting at some point in my life, something – anything – will become starkly clear. “The way” will reveal itself unto me, and I will fall into place as is ordained by fate.

Or not.

Since this has yet to happen, when confronted with a big decision, my mind instead enters into a thick, pea-soupy fog of uncertainty. Accepting one possible path eliminates another, which my mind fails to acknowledge as a positive thing. However, reality suggests I can’t possibly ever be everything to everyone, nor can I do everything and go everywhere, so I might as well make a decision and stick with it.

Hindsight and “the gut” are my two main tools when faced with big decisions. Hindsight helps me verify that I have made good decisions before, and perhaps, I could make them again. “The gut” tells me what action is probably *best* to take, even if that action feels uncomfortable or scary. Previously, emotion had this job, but the brain realized emotion is not to be trusted. At the same time, my brain acknowledged its own shortcoming as too logical of an instrument to be completely depended upon. “The gut” takes everything into account, along with some deep-seeded intuition that I can only attribute to the evolution and survival of the human species.

Still, I keep hoping that sometime, something will feel absolutely certain to me.

But then, maybe I am just the kind of person who is incapable of feeling certain; about anything. Yet at the same time I know I feel certain about some things: I am certain my family loves me, I am certain who my best friend is (Trish) and I am certain that I have some kind of human value. However, everything else is up for grabs.

In hindsight, I can say for the short time I was engaged, I was uncertain. I said yes, because I loved the guy, it seemed the next logical step and I thought it was what I wanted. Preferred alternatives to that scenario still haven’t revealed themselves to me, sometimes making me uncertain that ending the engagement was the “right” decision. During times of self-doubt like those, “the gut” reminds me that I called it off – I wasn’t institutionalized, therefore I must have made the “decision” in sound mind, even if time has made the reasons behind it less clear.

I guess somehow in life I became under the impression that decisions were easy. They were black and white or good and bad – not a rainbow of shades of gray.

My dad always says whatever decision you make is the right one. I don’t know if I buy that completely either. If I did, making them might be easier for me.

Still, sometimes too long of doing “nothing,” is motivation for me to do “something.”

Friday, July 27, 2007

Kayaking on Smalltown Lake

We've recently been experiencing the many variations of heat in Smalltown, Minn. Today it's a dry heat that evaporates the saliva right off of your tongue. But this is a welcome change from the muggy, humid heat we've previously experienced. Any heat is a good excuse to play in the water and that is exactly what I did Wednesday night.

I should preface this post by saying Smalltown, Minn. is not all hillbillies and tractors. There are a lot of "progressive" (by urban people's standards) businesses and activities in some of the larger small towns. For example, one slightly more populated town has just welcomed a SPA to the Chamber of Commerce. Wal-Mart recently came to the town where I am employed, which is society's way of saying "you are on the map!" Well, also in this town, a weekly enterprise is Ladies Night kayaking on the Lake.

Last summer and this summer, my employer offered to sponsor an evening kayak outing for all of the women in my office. Last summer, and so far, this summer, I appeared to be the only one interested in taking him up on it. Unfortunately, that means it is no longer a "work" outing and is more of an individual outing at my own expense.

I could have taken that $10 and gotten a value meal at Hardees and two 20 oz. diet Pepsis from the gas station, but instead I went to the Lake at 6:45 and waited for the kayak crew to arrive.

Suse, the woman behind the Ladies Night kayaking adventure, arrived with a trailer full of kayaks, every style and color of the rainbow. I was pretty pumped, even though the one co-worker who had swore she would go with me had in fact, stood me up. Suse introduced herself to me, I filled out a form giving her permission to call a doctor in the *unlikely event of an accident, and she hooked me up with a kayak.

I had the option of a sit-on-top kayak or a sit inside kayak. I wanted to get as wet as possible, so I went with the sit-on-top. It was a Dimension Kayak, baby blue, although Suse told me I could have whatever colored kayak I wanted.

Most of the other kayak-ers who showed up that night were regulars, although there were two other rookies like myself. Suse gave us each a life jacket, an oar, and short instructional on the shore. The oars are pretty long, with spoon-like paddles on either end. Suse helped us each off the "dock" (a series of wood planks on the shore) and off we went. I should mention that kayaks are pretty heavy for one person to carry. Maybe more so for pencil-pushers like myself.

Kayaking was fantastically fun! Part of it was just being out on the water on an excruciatingly hot day. Part of it was doing something I had never done before, which can be, but isn't always, fun. For me it took a little concentration, because you are supposed to hold your oar in such a way that your elbows are "hinged." This ensures that you are putting your strength into the paddling and not into your booty and hips. It was hard to just use my arms. My legs felt so useless and I normally do activities that require leg usage - biking, roller blading, walking, etc.

I would really love to go kayaking again, and I might, next Wednesday when Suse and her trailer of many kayaks returns. It's only $10 for two hours (or until the sun goes down) of pleasure on the lake. I felt really relaxed after I was done and I would recommend it to anyone.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The "frot brot" fräulein

This weekend, Smalltown, Minn. had its annual Town Church Bazaar/Citywide festival. Even though I am not an official “parishioner” of the Town Church (club memberships such as these do not fit into my meager budget) I am a registered voter in Smalltown, so I volunteered to help out at a festival booth.

The booth where I was stationed for about three hours Saturday night was a German fry bread stand. Smalltown and its slightly more or less-populated neighboring cities are heavily of German descent, so I suspect this is why the stand was called Gebraten frot brot. I am not sure what that means, although I am told “frot brot” translates to “fry bread.” I don’t speak the language, so I cannot confirm or deny this. I also don’t know that concept of deep frying bread dough and sprinkling it with a cinnamon and sugar mixture is that uniquely German in origin.

Much to the relief of all who knew that I was volunteering at this booth, I did NOT have anything to do with the hot grease or the deep fryer. I was in the less perilous position of coating the “frot brots.” This required that I pick up the drip-dried “frot brots” with tongs and drop them into a sugar-filled canister. Then (after returning the lid to said canister) shake it to provide the “frot brots” with their sweet coating.

Given my track record, I mentally prepared myself for the likelihood that the canister lid would (at least) one time slip off and I would be covered in sugar and pelted with “frot brots.” Fortunately, I left the festival the same way I came - for the most part.

I didn’t actually try a “frot brot” – though I was told repeatedly I could sample the product. Inhaling their sugary fumes for three hours straight was enough to trick my stomach into thinking I had already eaten a quantity that could make me sick.

At the end of the night, some of the “frot brots” were getting cold, and the drunken city folk began to cluster around the beer garden for “last call.” It became clear we would have to give away our remaining inventory, although many of the “frot brot” booth folks thought taking them home or eating them ourselves would also be an acceptable alternative.

I kind of felt guilty giving a cardboard tray with three “frot brots” to young children for the low price of $1.25. I knew those children would eat all three “frot brots” themselves, and also that there was absolutely no nutritional value in them. They are like sweet lard-biscuits.

I just hoped that this poor, parent-approved dietary selection was reserved for fair time only.

The Town Church Festival seems to bring out the best and the worst in people. Some people become their best selves, giving of their time, their money, and their energy to help their community; others become their worst selves, drinking too much, eating too much, or just behaving badly and taking advantage of the kindness of others. In the end the two groups probably balance each other out, but it’s the prevalence of the latter that makes me happy that the festival is over.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Homecoming

Waving flags, yellow ribbons and “welcome back” signs decorated Main Street in Smalltown, Minn. today, in anticipation of the long-awaited return of the National Guard Charlie Company of the 134th Brigade Support Battalion. But Smalltown wasn’t the only rural city welcoming soldiers back today. About 85 miles south of Smalltown, they were also welcoming the return of troops. A story for my newspaper took me to THAT welcome home ceremony, instead of the one in my very own backyard.

I was actually an honored guest at the welcome ceremony, where only family was invited. The sound of a motorcade let all of us inside the crowded hall know the men and women we had come to (symbolically) embrace had arrived.

The days leading up to the ceremony in Smalltown (and I imagine in this other community) reminded me of the week before Christmas as experienced by a child. There was a sort of anticipation in the air. Mothers and wives couldn’t sleep at night. Businesses rearranged the letters on their display boards to spell out “Welcome Home” and “Thank You” instead of the usual “Help Wanted” or “Kit Kat Blizzard.” You could feel that something very monumental was about to happen.

No one I consider “close” has gone to Iraq, although the brothers and sons of those around me DID embark on the journey and one did not return. Still, I have thought about the soldiers in general terms and as an American citizen can appreciate the experience of welcoming them home. This was a much preferred story assignment to covering the tearful sendoffs, which I have also had the experience of attending.

Although the soldiers were often stoic, the emotions were high (and apparent) on the part of their families. Eyes everywhere were brimming – with pride - mostly, but also happiness and maybe a little relief.

For me, the ritual was a reminder that no matter who you are, what your faith or political alignment, we all need to be our best selves at home, work and in the community because that is the only way to REALLY say thank you for the gift that the soldiers have given us. Our continued experience as free Americans.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Smalltown Me

I didn’t start my life in a small town, so I have trouble accepting the terminology used to describe people like myself: hick, redneck, hillbilly, etc. Because I grew up in suburb of Milwaukee, Wis., I exclude myself from these labels, and others like them (but even less flattering).

A four-year relationship with a student of dairy management and arguably lack of direction on my part, led me to the town I currently call home.

There are more cows than people where I live, a circumstance not without its benefits. “Skyscrapers” are considered 60-foot silos, barn and church cupolas and smiley-faced water towers.

I have been living here for two years now, and despite earlier attempts to fight assimilation, I fear it could be imminent. My “city dwelling” best friend and fellow English language and grammar aficionado once caught me saying, “them there.” That was the point when I (as a journalist and creative writing minor in college) felt I truly hit rock bottom.

Since that point, I have been much more mindful of my language – however “when in Rome,” I DO “do as the Romans do.”

City dwellers and rural Americans, despite their different lifestyle preferences, have many similarities – positive and negative. Both have a tremendous capacity for caring, kindness and sense of community; and both have tendencies toward racism, narrow-mindedness, and an unfounded sense of superiority – city dwellers over “hicks,” and rural Americans over “city-idiots” or “Cidiots.” I imagine this kind of dynamic exists between groups and classes of people all over the world, based on a myriad of values/perceived values.

How or if it will ever be resolved is the unanswered question. Maybe I can bridge the gap. But at this point I doubt it.